Listening to Rodney Durso describe how ArtBridge began, it became clear this was a passion project. Started in 2008, ArtBridge is a nonprofit organization with a mission to “enhance the urban experience by transforming overhead construction scaffolding into temporary art installations.” Additionally, ArtBridge provides a showcase for local emerging artists, as well as being an incubator and launch point for their burgeoning careers. On Friday, May 4th the organization will hold it’s first ever ArtBridge Annual Spring Art Auction at The Highline Loft located at 508 West 26th Street in New York City. Featuring the work of over 30 artists as well as a premiere of Works in Progress, a documentary short film about their 2011 Downtown Brooklyn installation, the auction promises attendees “a chance to get really good deals on really good art.”
In a phone interview, Durso spoke with me about ArtBridge’s development, the upcoming auction and some of the experiences that brought him and ArtBridge to this point. He explained how after a “whole career in graphic design and branding,” including eight years at agency Stormhouse Partners (which he’d founded), he started feeling “burnt out.” Suspecting there might be a painter inside him and “needing a break from the business of design,” he rented a studio space to paint full time with the intention of applying his marketing ideas and experience to painting, and possibly making a go at the gallery scene. That’s when circumstance intervened. To his chagrin, Durso found the gallery scene “tightly vacuum sealed.” He began considering the construction going on near his studio in Chelsea “you know huge plywood panels, kind of like canvasses.” At first, he intended to show his own work, but as Durso stated “it became clear there was a bigger opportunity for all emerging artists,” so ArtBridge was born.
Durso’s decision to foster other artists rather than stepping into the limelight himself seems central to the nurturing spirit of the organization and is evident in its approach. He specifically looks for emerging talent, sometimes plucking artists straight from grad school, priming and preparing them. An artist’s success relies heavily on visibility and the organization offers unprecedented exposure for fledgling artists along with the chance to work on a large scale, with panels being as big as 25’x14’ feet. Several ArtBridge artists have already had successful installations and attracted major attention from leading organizations such as the American Institute of Architects. ArtBridge’s three-legged structure of public programs, education and outreach further speaks to the organization’s familial and community focused culture, which Durso consciously advances. I commented to Durso that it seemed to require a certain amount of graciousness for an artist to promote other artists work instead of their own, and asked him if he thought that perhaps his willingness to do so was partly owing to his having already experienced earlier career successes. To which he responded with a laugh, “Yes, definitely, I might not have felt the same way if I were 25 and just starting out.”
Which leads us to now, a little more than four years since the organization began and one short week before ArtBridge’s first Annual Spring Art Auction, their first ticketed event. Durso described how the idea for the auction came about “[It] came about organically. [We’re] always looking for ways to promote more artists, fundraise; provide more access to art and [create] excitement. One of us had this idea and the response was “yes, this makes total sense.”
Despite the organization’s upward trajectory and positive response from the community, property owners and developers, when asked what his biggest challenge was, Durso cited funding, saying “ [It’s] easy to get potential sites and communicate value but harder getting people to pay for [that] value.” He noted finding time for his own art as another big challenge.
Challenges aside, when I asked Durso “What’s next for ArtBridge?” he replied “More. More of what we’re doing, more public outreach for education and maybe exploring digital avenues such as an app. But, ultimately we want to stay focused on what we do.”